First Sunday of Advent, Year A – Lectio divina on Mt 24:37-44
The season of Advent opens the Christian Year. The Church urges us earnestly to concentrate in quiet contemplation, without interruption, on the mystery of our salvation. With this in mind, we will try to reaffirm our faith strongly. The more we contemplate the love of God for us, the more we will strengthen our hope, and the more we will feel nostalgia for that love which so often we ignore or lose through our own fault. We will feel loved by God to the extent that we allow him to love us more, day by day.
The first Christians were convinced of the coming of the Lord. They were very concerned to know the timing of his coming and anxious to prepare for it. Matthew does not answer his readers’ expectations. He simply repeats his belief that the Lord will come, and reminds them of the futility of trying to guess the time of his coming. It will be completely unexpected. He recalls the thoughtless behavior of people before the flood, and tries to imagine the attitude and foresight of people who fear the coming of a thief. For those who know that the Lord is coming, there is nothing they can do but wait. The way to live in Christian hope today is to stay awake and act responsibly. This is how the Lord wants his faithful disciples to wait for his coming. This is what he taught us, all of two thousand years ago.
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples, 37 “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focusing on how it says it.
This Gospel passage is part of the last discourse of Jesus reported in Matthew’s Gospel. It deals with the coming of the Son of Man, an event the early Christians hoped for and believed imminent. After first confirming his coming (Mt 24.1-35), Jesus goes on to talk about the need to prepare (Mt 24.36-51). A crucial event like this demands diligence. If we believe that the Lord is coming we must be alert and vigilant. The hour of his coming is uncertain, but that does not make it purely hypothetical. If the Lord is already on the way, the disciples must wait for him without delay. In times of uncertainty, there is nothing else to do except to watch always.
Jesus repeats his exhortation with two other images: one taken from biblical history, the other, from the experience of daily life. In both cases, Jesus encourages his disciples to reflect on life, past and present, in order to understand how and when God’s plan will be fulfilled.
What happened in the days of Noah is intended as a lesson for us. Nobody was expecting a flood. People went on with their lives and there was nothing wrong with this. They carried on eating, drinking, marrying, and not thinking that something extraordinary was going to happen – but they died. They did not do what could have saved them, which was to get into the ark. They did not make an ark for themselves, because they did not think there was going to be a flood. They did not prepare because they were not expecting anything – but “the flood came and swept them all away”.
If a thief breaks into a house, it is usually at a time when the owner is not expecting it. The unexpected intrusion takes him by surprise. The element of surprise is the thief’s best ally. If the owner had known, he would have defended his house better. He would have been waiting and watching, and would have prevented that forced entry.
A flood is a natural phenomenon that comes without prior warning. It is an unavoidable disaster – not the result of someone’s freely made decision. Not so the arrival of the thief who normally decides to act when least expected. The coming of the Son of man resembles both cases: it will be as inevitable as a natural disaster, but also a freely chosen act, like an appointment. There is nothing else to be done but to keep watch and be prepared.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life.
We may well have forgotten it, or maybe we just do not want to believe it, but as Christians we live our lives waiting for the return of the Lord, who is coming to judge the living and the dead. Belief in the Risen Lord means believing that he is coming back for us. The loss of faith is often almost imperceptible, yet it may be continuously growing in the lives of believers. Without a doubt, one of the most obvious symptoms of this loss of faith is a weakening of the desire for the Lord’s return, the absence of a longing for Christ, a lack of enthusiasm for his coming, certain though it be. We might do well to remember that the first Christians began to believe in Christ when they began to look forward to his coming in glory!
An authentic life of faith is impossible, even unthinkable, unless it is nourished by hope and expressed in hope. If we do not expect anything new or anything better from God, we will inevitably lose God from our world and from our hearts. What is more, God is losing credibility in our eyes. Sometimes we see this very clearly: if we have nothing better to look forward to, we live superficial lives, totally given to pursuit of the things in life that perish. We lose our hope in God because it seems he is not present when we need him. We tend to have little respect for a God who does not force us to look for him. God would seem to be of little importance to us if we do not miss him when he is absent, if we do not long for him and wait for him. Our faith is of little value if it does not make us live in the hope that one day he will return.
Believers today, like the people of Noah’s time, carry on eating, drinking, and getting married. We are so concerned about our future that we plan it in advance, and we delude ourselves into thinking we have it all under control. We live in the present in order to survive into the future. We plan now for tomorrow and we think we are safe from all surprises. We are so concerned about the important things that we have to do today, that we do not even hope that something better might happen tomorrow. We are so busy with today’s concerns that we have no time and no wish to think about what we are missing, including especially God. There are many things that rob us of sleep, and God is very rarely one of them. The absence of God from our lives is not the reason for our insomnia. Like the owner who leaves his house unguarded, we never think that the thief can come at any time.
The people of Noah’s time carried on with their normal lives, but they did nothing wrong. Neither did the owner who failed to foresee the raid on his house. They had no reason to think that something bad was about to happen to them. They failed to do what was necessary, simply because they were not prepared. They did not expect anything to happen to them. They thought everything was fine. That was their misfortune! This is the significance of the warning Jesus gives.
We do not do anything extraordinary. We don’t do anything really bad. We simply live our lives, day by day, without looking to God for a better future. We are busy with our daily concerns, and God no longer troubles us. We have so many things to deal with that it seems understandable that we neglect God. We are so caught up in our day-to-day problems that we have given up on hope and have lost interest in our salvation.
As disciples of Jesus, we know that he will come one day, that indeed he is already on his way to us. There is no excuse for us if we allow the stress of everyday life to stifle our need for God. If we deny God the place of honour in our lives, and if we do not put all our hope in him, we will inevitably lose faith in life and in God. What a sad example Christians give to the people in our society – which looks to us as a group and as individuals – if we are not committed to becoming better people in this world and making our world a better place! When our Lord comes, will he find us awake, alive, active and vigilant? Will he find us prepared for his arrival?
In the world of today, our task is to bear witness as people of hope. Christian hope does not rely on what we see or what we offer to others. It rests only on the Lord’s promise. He will come one day. Those who know that he is coming will find the strength to wait for him every day. Wherever God seems absent, we must be there as man and women of hope, not taking his place but as his representatives. Wherever there is discouragement, we have a job to do. Anyone who lives life waiting for God will never have reason to despair. If we do not find him in this world, we have all the more reason to hope. We do not know for sure when the Lord will come, so we live in constant expectation of his coming. Today’s world needs witnesses of God, who keep alive the hope of finding him one day, men and women who will keep watch day and night until they find him. The Lord will be found by those who are busy while they waiting for him. How are we living this time of waiting?